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Susan Au

(b Rogers, TX, Jan 5, 1931; d New York, Dec 1, 1989). American dancer, choreographer, and dance company director. He began to study dance at Lester Horton’s studio in Los Angeles in 1949 and went to the East Coast as a member of Horton’s dance company in 1953. After Horton’s sudden death and the company’s disbandment he joined the cast of the Broadway musical House of Flowers (1954), the first of several musicals and plays in which he appeared. In 1958 he assembled a group of dancers to perform his choreography at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA in New York City, and this group eventually grew into the company now called the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. His choreographic style combined modern dance, ballet, jazz dance, and elements of social and ethnic dance forms. Many of his works reflect the African-American experience in their themes and music; his best-known work, ...

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Claude Conyers

[Dorothea Moses]

(b Atlanta, GA, April 22, 1904; d Atlanta, GA, Nov 17, 1986). American ballet dancer, choreographer, teacher, and company director. Having suffered osteomylitis in early childhood, she was given ballet lessons to restore her strength. They not only did that but set her on course for her life’s work. Dismayed by the lack of training and performing opportunities for ballet dancers in Atlanta, she vowed to create them if she could. After continued study with teachers in Atlanta and New York, she opened her own studio in Atlanta in 1921 and originated a dance enrichment program in Atlanta public schools in 1927. Two years later she founded the Dorothy Alexander Dance Concert Group and began to present public programs with her pupils. This group eventually became the Atlanta Ballet, the nation’s oldest regional company. From its inception until the mid-1950s, “Miss Dorothy” created some eighty ballets for the company, including lyrical works for adult audiences as well as story ballets for children. Although she usually worked to the music of popular European composers, she sometimes commissioned works from local composers. Notable are ...

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Claude Conyers

[Robert Alton Hart]

(b Bennington, VT, Jan 28, 1897; d Los Angeles, June 12, 1957). American choreographer and musical theater director. He fell in love with show business at an early age. When his hopes of becoming a circus contortionist were dashed by his parents, he began seriously studying dance and eventually made his professional début with Mikhail Mordkin’s ballet company. He spent the early 1920s dancing in Broadway musicals and on the vaudeville stage in a duo act with his wife. When she left to have a baby, he began staging dance numbers for a St. Louis movie theater and teaching dance in a local school.

Alton’s early success as a dance director led to a choreographic career that encompassed most of the major Broadway hits of the 1930s and 1940s. He learned stagecraft from working with innovative director John Murray Anderson and developed his instinctive musicality through collaborating with composers such as Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers. He revolutionized Broadway show dancing by replacing the precision routines of the chorus line with dances for soloists and small groups, always elegantly staged and with unusual attention to stylistic details. Among the many shows for which he staged dances are ...

Article

Susan Au

[Gennaro, Peter]

(b Staten Island, NY, Jan 14, 1923; d Chicago, Oct 29, 2008). American dancer, choreographer, teacher, and ballet company director. He began to study dance after meeting Robert Joffrey while on military service in Seattle, and continued this study in New York at the School of American Ballet and with the modern dancers May O’Donnell and Gertrude Shurr. He became a founding member of the faculty of Joffrey’s school, the American Dance Center, and of Joffrey’s first dance group, which later became the Joffrey Ballet. He also performed on Broadway and with New York City Opera. After retiring as a performer in 1964, he focused on the choreographic work he had begun in 1961 with the ballet Ropes, to music by Charles Ives. As chief choreographer of the Joffrey Ballet, he created ballets that celebrated the company’s youthful verve and vitality, frequently utilizing scores by American contemporary composers. Among his most popular ballets were ...

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Article

(b Omaha, NE, May 10, 1899; d Beverly Hills, CA, June 22, 1987). American dancer, singer, choreographer, and actor. He began performing at the age of seven with his sister Adele. As a duo they worked in vaudeville from 1906 to 1916 and moved to Broadway in 1917. Starring roles in The Bunch and Judy (1922) and For Goodness Sake (1923) led to Lady, be good! (1924), which marked their arrival as top Broadway stars. During the 1920s several of the Astaires’ successful shows appeared in the West End in London, where the pair enjoyed a cult-like following. After The Band Wagon (1931) Adele retired from the stage to marry an English aristocrat. Astaire appeared in Gay Divorce in New York (1932) and London (1933), before signing a contract with RKO, the smallest major film studio in Hollywood....

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Paul R. Laird

[Avedisian, Robert]

(b New York, NY, Dec 26, 1937). American dancer, choreographer, producer, and director. After simultaneous study at Boston University and the Boston School of Ballet, Avian appeared in a touring production of West Side Story. He met MICHAEL BENNETT during the show’s European tour; they became friends and long-time artistic and business partners. Avian was in West Side Story (1960) on Broadway, followed by Funny Girl (1964). He was assistant stage manager for I Do! I Do! (1966), then performed in Henry, Sweet Henry (1967). Avian collaborated with Bennett for two decades on a remarkable succession of shows. He was assistant choreographer to Bennett for Promises, Promises (1968), associate choreographer for Coco (1969), Company (1970), and Follies (1971), and production assistant for the play Twigs (1971), which Bennett directed. Avian served as associate choreographer for ...

Article

[Gyorgy Melitonovich ]

(b St. Petersburg, Russia, Jan 22, 1904; d New York, NY, April 30, 1983). Dancer, choreographer, teacher, and ballet company director of Russian birth, active in the United States. He was trained at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg, where he created his first choreography. He also studied piano and music theory at the Petrograd Conservatory of Music, gaining a firm musical foundation. After graduating in 1921, he danced in the ballet company of the State Theater of Opera and Ballet, and choreographed for his own ensemble, the Young Ballet. In 1924 he left Russia for western Europe, where he joined Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. After the company disbanded following Diaghilev’s death in 1929, he worked in Europe until 1933, when he came to the United States at the invitation of Lincoln Kirstein. The two founded the School of American Ballet in New York in 1934, and together formed four successive companies with the dancers trained there: the American Ballet (...

Article

Claude Conyers

(b Cedar Grove, LA, Dec 22, 1918; d New York, April 29, 1995). American dancer, choreographer, teacher, and company director. Having begun formal dance training with Katherine Dunham in Chicago, he made his first appearance on stage in Ruth Page’s 1934 production of La Guiablesse (The Devil Woman, 1933), with Dunham in the title role. He later performed as a soloist in Dunham’s company and continued his training with Martha Graham and with various ballet teachers in New York City. Recognized as a charismatic dancer in several companies, he formed his own troupe in 1947 and toured widely with a revue entitled Tropicana (1950–55). For this show he made his first significant work, Southern Landscape (1949; music, traditional spirituals), which launched his reputation as a brilliant choreographer. In later years he choreographed more than fifty ballets, some of which, centering on social issues and experiences of African Americans, became classics of the modern dance repertory. Among them are ...

Article

Claude Conyers

(b Buffalo, NY, April 8, 1943; d Tucson, AZ, July 2, 1987).

American dancer, choreographer, and musical theater director. He first appeared on stage at age two, in a dance recital in his hometown. As a youngster, he studied ballet, tap, jazz, and modern dance, appeared in summer stock, and had his first directorial experience with high school musicals. He dropped out of school in 1960 to dance the role of Baby John in a European touring production of West Side Story, with choreography by Jerome Robbins. After a year abroad, he went to New York and found work as a chorus boy in shows choreographed by Ron Field, Michael Kidd, and Peter Gennaro. All these innovative choreographers influenced Bennett’s subsequent choreographic work, which included numerous television shows and summer stock productions.

On Broadway, Bennett’s first solo assignments as choreographer were for A Joyful Noise (1966; music by Oscar Brand and Paul Nassau) and ...

Article

Robert Howie

(b Buffalo, NY, April 8, 1943; d Tucson, AZ, July 2, 1987). American director and choreographer. He made his début at the age of 17 as Baby John in a tour of West Side Story, and was influenced by working with Jerome Robbins, Michael Kidd and Peter Gennaro in further Broadway shows. His first orginal dances featured in the short-lived A Joyful Noise (1966), and in the following year he staged How Now, Dow Jones whose producer, David Merrick, spotted Bennett’s potential and gave him his first hit, Promises, Promises (1968), with his first show-stopping number, ‘Turkey Lurkey Time’. His staging of Follies in 1971 was so integral to the show’s success that Hal Prince gave him co-director’s credit. By Seesaw (1973), he took over the direction, choreography and writing of an out-of-town disaster and reversed its fortunes: this level of artistic control inspired Bennett to develop ...

Article

Michael Tenzer

(b Belaluan, Denpasar, 1924). Balinese performer, teacher, composer and choreographer. At the time of his birth, Belaluan's acclaimed gamelan group, directed by his father Madé Regog, had been among the first to import the nascent kebyar style to the south of the island from its area of origin in the north. Beratha's musical talent was evident early, and by the age of ten he had mastered the sacred lalambatan repertory and was a proficient drummer.

While young he taught village ensembles throughout Bali and continued studying dance and music with the major figures of the day. His first dance composition, Yudha Pati, was introduced in 1958, and the instrumental Swa Buana Paksa a year later. Travelling widely, he performed for Sukarno in the 1950's and was in residence at the 1964–5 New York World's Fair. When the first Balinese KOKAR (Konservatori Karawitan) opened in 1960 in Denpasar, Beratha joined the faculty and from this influential centre greatly shaped Balinese music during the ensuing decades....

Article

Gordon Haramaki

[Enos, William Berkeley ]

(b Los Angeles, CA, Nov 29, 1895; d Palm Springs, CA, March 14, 1976). American choreographer and film director. He is best known for producing lavish musical numbers, which led to the slang term busby berkeley, for any elaborate dance number. The son of theatrical parents, Berkeley made his stage debut at age five. In 1917 he enrolled in the US Army where parade drills may have influenced his later choreography. During the 1920s he choreographed over 20 Broadway productions and in 1930 began his first Hollywood work for a series of films featuring comedian Eddie Cantor. The making of these films, in which Berkeley developed his distinctive palette of cinematic devices for choreographing and filming dance numbers—including the “parade of faces” and the famous kaleidoscopic “top shot” (which he did not originate)—occurred during a slump in audience interest with musicals. However, the stunning sequence of musical numbers he choreographed for ...

Article

Elizabeth Aldrich

revised by Sally Banes

(b Aberdeen, WA, Nov 25, 1936). American choreographer and dancer. She graduated from Mills College and also studied with Anna Halprin and Robert Dunn as well as at the American Dance Festival in Connecticut. She has taught at Mills College, Reed College, New York University, and other institutions. Brown was a founding member of the Judson Dance Theater and the Grand Union, and in 1970 she formed the Trisha Brown Company. Termed a “postmodern” choreographer, Brown has often rejected music entirely or given it a subordinate role in her dances. During the early 1960s she performed improvised and “task” dances, which she later varied in a series of “equipment pieces” requiring what she called “external support systems,” such as ropes, pulleys, and mountain-climbing gear. The “accumulation” and “structured” pieces of the early 1970s involved the systematic ordering of movement. In 1979 Brown began to create several large-scale dance works in collaboration with such artists as Robert Rauschenberg, Donald Judd, and Fukijo Nakaya, and with the composers Robert Ashley and Laurie Anderson; in these works she included music as a dominant element for the first time. Brown’s major choreographic works in the 1980s and 1990s were highlighted by collaborations with composers Anderson, Peter Zummo, and Richard Landry, as well as visual artists Rauschenberg, Judd, and Nancy Graves. During the 1990s she also began to work with existing musical scores, setting dances to the music of Bach, Webern, Cage, and Rameau. In ...

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Claude Conyers

(b Geneva, IL, June 22, 1921; d New York, Aug 25, 1980). American dancer, singer, choreographer, and musical theater director. When he was twelve years old, he began studying dance with Ernest Belcher in Los Angeles, training in ballet, acrobatics, tap, and Spanish dance. At fifteen he formed a ballroom dance act with Jeanne Tyler, a fellow student at Hollywood High School, and made his professional début. After several years of touring (1935–42) and a stint in the Coast Guard during World War II, Champion formed a new partnership with Belcher’s daughter Marjorie in 1946. The new partners would later marry and win fame as one of the most popular dancing couples of the late 1940s and 1950s.

Marge and Gower Champion played supper clubs and hotel ballrooms before moving on to Broadway musicals and television variety shows. By the early 1950s they had established a national reputation as a popular song and dance act, and Gower had gained considerable experience as a choreographer. Their successes on stage and television led them, inevitably, back to Hollywood. After appearing as “guest artists” in ...

Article

Claude Conyers

(b Mountain Iron, MN, June 4, 1922). American choreographer and musical theater director. Trained by local teachers in Minnesota, he spent a summer as a youngster with Ted Shawn’s historic all-male ensemble at Jacob’s Pillow in Massachusetts. While serving in the Air Corps during World War II, he also danced and directed for a USO troupe, his first experience at choreographing and directing. After the war, he continued his dance training with teachers in New York and pursued his interest in dance creation. His first major job as a choreographer was for Stop the Music, an ABC-TV series, in 1949, after which he quickly became one of television’s most acclaimed choreographers. As choreographer of popular songs on the weekly show Your Hit Parade, Charmoli won his first Emmy award in 1955. Subsequently he arranged dance numbers for some of the biggest stars on television and the nightclub circuit: Dinah Shore, Danny Kaye, Julie Andrews, Shirley MacLaine, Juliet Prowse, Mitzi Gaynor, and others. He also worked on Broadway shows and Hollywood films, but it was his choreography for television that brought him fame. His understanding of choreographing for the camera led to work that set the standard for all future televised dance sequences....

Article

Sally Banes

revised by Elizabeth Aldrich

(b New York, NY, June 26, 1940). American choreographer and dancer. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and also studied with Hanya Holm, Helen Tamiris, Merce Cunningham, James Waring, and Robert Dunn. In 1973 she founded her own company, Lucinda Childs Dance. For the most part her works are danced in silence. Pieces from the 1960s such as Street Dance (1964) incorporate ordinary activities as dance movements; those of the 1970s and 1980s consist chiefly of stepping patterns (Calico Mingling, 1973; Melody Excerpt, 1977). Childs is perhaps best known for her role as dancer, actress, and speaker in the avant-garde opera Einstein on the Beach (1976) by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson; originally she choreographed only her own solo dance, but for the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1984 she served as choreographer of the entire work. Her participation in Einstein led to a further collaboration with Glass, ...

Article

Claude Conyers

[John Ewing Richter]

(b New Brunswick, NJ, April 27, 1911; d Los Angeles, Feb 17, 1974). American dancer and choreographer. He left home as a teenager to pursue dance training at the Denishawn studio in New York City. Taking his stage name from his stepfather, he appeared with several modern dance troupes before forming an exhibition dance act and beginning a commercial career dancing in nightclubs. During the late 1930s he danced with a partner and sometimes a small group of backup dancers in supper clubs, hotel ballrooms, and music theaters around the country. His performances, noted for their dramatic flair, brought him profitable jobs on Broadway and eventually led him, in 1941, to Hollywood. There, as dance director at Columbia Pictures, he created memorable ensemble numbers showcasing the talents of such stars as Mitzi Gaynor, Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, Ann Miller, and Marilyn Monroe. His highly individual dance style emphasized the sensuality of his stars and usually caused trouble with the film censors. More than one of his dance numbers ended up on the cutting-room floor. He created dances for more than thirty films as well as numerous hit shows on Broadway, including ...

Article

Mary Jo Lodge

(b New York, NY, July 4, 1887; d Encino, CA Feb 29, 1944). American choreographer, director, and producer. He was a choreographer and dance director of Broadway musicals in the 1920s and 30s. He also directed several shows on Broadway before moving exclusively into choreographing early Hollywood film musicals. He began staging musical numbers on Broadway in 1926 with the musical Kitty’s Kisses. The long list of Broadway musicals he choreographed includes Good News (1927), George and Ira Gershwin’s Funny Face (1927), Sigmund Romberg’s The New Moon (1928), and The Ziegfeld Follies of 1931 and 1934. His first directing opportunity came with the stage musical Princess Charming in 1930, which, like The Ballyhoo of 1932, was one of a handful he also produced. He first worked as a dance director for film on Moonlight and Pretzels (1933), which was shot in New York. He then served as choreographer, dance director, or musical stager on a series of films for Warner Bros. and then MGM in California, most famously ...

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